Leaning on Green: Of Ice Skating, Down Syndrome, and Ordinary Time

Brave men are vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Of Sports Radio, Squabbles, and Signs of Life

Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world.
~ Walker Percy

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When a Coach Falls in Love with Religion

“Religion was never on my radar,” says Sr. Gianna Marie Webber, OSF. It’s a surprising statement coming from a Franciscan sister in full habit, not to mention the principal of a Catholic grade school, but then Sr. Gianna Marie’s story is full of such surprises.

The third of six children, Sr. Gianna Marie was baptized Catholic, but her family ceased practicing the Faith when she was 6. Athletics became her passion, and she excelled at basketball, which earned her a scholarship to Ohio’s Mount Vernon Nazarene University. “If you can get an orange ball into a basket,” she explains, “it makes education very cheap.”

About the time she finished her education degree and started teaching (and coaching) high-schoolers in Alaska, her mother returned to the Church and started praying for her children to do the same. “Don’t underestimate the power of a mother’s prayers,” Sr. Gianna Marie says. Her mom’s resurgent faith challenged her to take religion seriously for the first time.

Another challenge came by way of Mother Teresa, whose tireless service to the poor regularly showed up in the news. “All that she was doing for the Man on the Cross,” Sister recalls wondering, “was it worth it?” Concluding it was, she decided she wanted to be a member of Mother Teresa’s “team” as a Catholic Christian.

Once back in the Church, Sr. Gianna Marie considered how she could best serve the Lord. One morning she woke with a mental image of herself in habit rather than as a mom with a brood of kids. “You know how it is when you fall in love,” she says of her call to religious life. “You just…fall in love.”

Eventually, she made her way to Mishawaka, Indiana, and presented herself as a candidate to the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. “I didn’t think they’d take me, but they took me,” she says. “I didn’t think they’d keep me, but they’ve kept me.”

In the course of her formation, Sr. Gianna Marie completed a master’s in educational administration at Franciscan University in 2011. Now fully professed, she serves as principal of St. Matthew Cathedral School in South Bend, Indiana. It’s an assignment that brings together her coach’s enthusiasm, her teacher’s purposefulness, and her Franciscan joy. As Sr. Gianna Marie says, being a principal “takes it to another court altogether.”

A version of this profile originally appeared in Franciscan Magazine, Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Mass Oddities: Three Quirks That Bear Witness

“Let us lay aside every weight,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12.1).

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Nick’s First Two-Pointer (with assists)

I need someone to set a pick for me at the free-throw line of life.
~ Cheech & Chong

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Empty Stadiums, Empty Promises

J8255969ohn Dillinger robbed his last bank here in South Bend – the Merchant’s National Bank, at 229 South Michigan Avenue. On June 30, 1934, Dillinger and his gang entered the bank, shot up the ceiling, and got away with $29,000. A South Bend traffic cop, Officer Howard Wagner, lost his life trying to intervene, which prompted J. Edgar Hoover to put a $10,000 bounty on Dillinger’s head. About a month later, Dillinger was gunned down by Chicago police outside the Biograph Theater.

The building at 229 South Michigan Avenue still stands, and you can visit it today. But it’s no longer a bank. In fact, it looks like the Cambodian restaurant that’s housed there now was always there – like it belongs there. It doesn’t even look like the building was ever a bank.

Down the street a piece from the Cambodian restaurant stands another old bank, but this one definitely retains it’s bank-y allure. The building at 911 South Michigan is an imposing edifice with big marble-looking pillars, and it’s frieze still2769984996_d9aae32fa5 bears the name, “South Bend State Bank.” It definitely looks like someplace you’d want to store your cash, maybe even today. I’m not sure what’s there now, but what you can see from the street gives an unmistakeable message of safety and security.

It seems like most banks used to be built that way – big, sturdy, stone, impregnable. It was a marketing ploy even after it became obsolete in terms of actual security – after, that is, money was not kept piled up in safes any more, but was relegated to digital blips on computers and fiber optic filaments.

Today, long after banks transmuted into storefronts in strip malls and mere counter space in grocery stores, colleges and universities have gotten into the act of building big to impress and sell.

Last fall, Colorado State University was in the news for the pricey football stadium they were building, despite the poor performance of the CSU Rams on the field. Even now, after cutting back the plans by $20 million, CSU’s president Tony Frank still insists the $226.5 million they’ll still end up spending is in the University’s “best long-term interest.”131008085725_new-csu-stadium-01

The CSU story is unfolding at a time when stories abound about the sinking relative value of a four-year college degree – and at a time when CSU itself wants to raise tuition by 5%. It seems the more colleges and universities spend on stadiums and amenities, the less cost effective it is for most Americans to obtain a college degree, especially when it involves crushing debt. And even when they do manage to get through college, many graduates struggle to find gainful employment in the fields in which they trained, not to mention the struggle to pay back loans.

So, what’s the alternative? Skip college and become, what, a plumber or something?

Well, maybe. For some – why not?

Better that than, say…, getting robbed.


The Cumulative Effect of Sub-Violent Events

Concussions and football are in the news again. Actually, they’ve been in the news pretty much continually lately, with revelations and horror stories about football and brain injuries popping up at every turn.

This week, it’s the big documentary appearing on PBS that seems to be dropping the hammer on the NFL, and what the organization may or may not have known about the real risks of professional football when it comes to repeated knocks to the head.

football1I have a boy playing football these days, and I’d be loath to yank him out, even after hearing some of the brain injury stories here and there. He’s in 8th-grade, and sure there’s a risk, but at that level, the chances of some kind of life-altering brain slam are slim. Cris loves the game and the camaraderie, and this year he’s playing both sides of the ball, offense and defense, every weekend. That means he’s getting banged up a bunch, but it’s all part of the action and the thrill, right? As long as he doesn’t snap his spine or black out completely, it’s just routine collateral damage, right?

That’s what I thought, but then I heard a segment on on Sound Medicine about that new documentary League of DenialProducer Michael Kirk made reference to the long-term consequences of “repeated sub-concussive effects,” especially for kids who start playing football at very young ages. This was a major point brought up in a PBS Newshour report which included an interview with ESPN writer and League of Denial investigator, Mark Fainaru-Wada:

The issue with football is not necessarily these big hits that we see all the time shown on highlight, but rather the repetitive nature of playing the game, the sub-concussive blows that happen everyday at the line of scrimmage.

And whether you can mitigate those out of the game or not remains to be seen, and whether you would want to, frankly, remains to be seen. It’s a brutal, violent sport, but very popular, obviously. I love it. My brother, who co-authored the book with me, we both love the sport. And, obviously, millions of people love it.

Indeed, we love it, and not despite it’s violence—it’s “danger” and “gladiatorial” character in the words of Michael Kirk—but because of it. In fact, would there be much left to football if we eliminated those factors? Hard to know. Should I reconsider letting my son play now, or give some serious thought to whether he should play in high school? I don’t know.

But I digress. What really caught my attention and imagination in these reports was the idea of sub-concussive events and their cumulative impact. Could it be that something similar has gone on in our culture with regards to our acceptance of killing as a way of life?

This came to mind as I read through a WSJ story about Ross Ulbricht, the creator and driving force behind the Silk Road website, now shut down by the feds. Silk Road dealt in the shady side of the internet, brokering transactions off the legal radar, especially illicit drugs. It sounds like Ross was a pretty smart guy, but he got tangled up with some nasty business, and it led him down a dark, dangerous path.

[Ulbricht] allegedly agreed to pay $80,000 to a Silk Road customer—an undercover federal agent—to have the associate tortured and killed, according to a federal indictment.

When the undercover agent sent Mr. Ulbricht doctored photos of the victim post-torture and beat up, but not dead, Mr. Ulbricht allegedly responded that he was “a little disturbed, but I’m OK,” and “I’m new to this kind of thing is all,” according to the indictment.

Right. New to this kind of thing—this kind of “thing” being torture and murder. How did Ulbrict get to the place where he’d even consider dabbling in that kind of thing? And, come to think of it, how about those kids in Texas who made their headline splash back in August when they shot and killed the Australian exchange student out of sheer boredom?

Now, you can’t tell me that Ulbricht and those Texas teens were genetically programmed for that kind of senseless violence, and it doesn’t sound like they had particularly jarring childhoods or any significant violent events in their personal histories. Instead, I’d be willing to bet that their embrace of wanton amorality and cruelty came after a gradual acclimation that involved repeated exposures to miniaturized, second-hand violence in the form of entertainment and news—almost like repeated sub-concussive hits to the soul that result in a broken moral compass.water_drip

It’s not any single massive assault, but rather a lifetime of little assaults via television and film, internet and gaming, not to mention the broader society’s easy acceptance of abortion on demand, terminal dehydration of the frail and failing, and drone-mediated targeted killings with associated “collateral damage.” If you grow up with an understanding that such things are commonplace and normal, then is it such a leap that you’d have your business foes tortured and snuffed out? That you’d take potshots off your porch at joggers just for grins?

Debt ceiling? Healthcare reform? I’d say we’ve got even more pressing matters to address. Way more pressing.

And could it be that we have to start on the gridiron itself? Perhaps. Football is, after all, a “brutal, violent sport,” as Fainaru-Wada put it—even “gladiatorial” according to Michael Kirk.

Maybe sub-concussive effects aren’t the only cumulative dangers we’re subjecting our young players to.

Football Widowers Guide

My brother got all the sports genes—what can I say? I collected baseball cards when I was a kid, but I always got killed on the trades because I didn’t know the good players from the bad, nor why they were good or bad. And let’s just say my Little League record closely paralleled by trading card record.

And basketball. And football. Football was especially important by the time we moved to Colorado. Back then, the Broncos were always contenders, as well as the C.U. Buffaloes—yes, those Buffbroncosaloes. The ones who went up against Notre Dame for a national title in 1991. (I remember that much.)

Then there’s the year the Broncos were in the Super Bowl against the Cowboys. While my dad and brother and his buddies crowded around the TV, I drove the family wagon to McDonald’s for burgers and fries, taking time to do some donuts in King Soopers’ parking lot. Yeah, no hurry to get home. It’s only football.

These days? We’re in Irish country, but I have retained my indifference to football. My wife, though, has become a super-fan, and the autumn revolves around Notre Dame’s schedule. We’ve even been to a few games, but staying at home is preferred: You can see what’s going on better on the big screen, and the snacks are cheap and plentiful.

It’s the radio for me, if anything at all. It’s too nerve-wracking to watch the tube and see what’s going wrong and not be able to do anything about it—like being in one of those nightmares that you can’t wake up from. (Not that the N.D. coaches would want my advice anyway, as my sons are all too quick to remind me.)

I used to listen to games on the radio while I worked in the garage or balanced the checkbook, but not so much now. Instead, I putz around, wander in and out where the game is on, and keep tabs on the kids and the dog. My wife can enjoy the game; I can enjoy that she’s enjoying the game.

Probably there aren’t too many American males in my predicament. But for those two or three guys out there who get what I’m talking about, I have a few suggestions. It’s a LIST, and I present it to you despite the objections of Joe Queenan last week in the WSJ.

1. Prepare gastronomically. There’s a good chance there won’t be a regular sit-down meal during the game, so plan ahead. Eat light but nutritionally prudent for breakfast, and skip lunch. You’ll be leaning heavily on cheese puffs, Chex Mix, and other junk food late on Saturday to get you through to Sunday.

2. Don’t radio-jump the TV-watchers. Games on the radio are always a few seconds ahead of television broadcasts it seems. Consequently, if you’re listening and hear a touchdown called and then let out a cheer? The TV-watchers (including your wife) won’t appreciate it. It’s like telling somebody the punchline of a Sunday comic he’s reading before he gets there himself. Taboo.

3. No patronizing or gloating. If you’re not rooting for the home team, keep your mouth shut.notre-dame

4. Anticipate broadcast issues. Get cable or satellite, and make sure it’s working. If you’re like me, and you’ve rejected cable and satellite on principle, then make sure you know ahead of time whether the game will be broadcast at all.

And it’s important to determine the network ahead of time so that the proper channel can be located and the antenna adjusted. Of course, if it’s ESPN, forget it. It’s the doghouse for you that week. Plus you’ll be picking up the tab for nachos and Coke at a local eatery so your spouse and sons can at least watch the kick-off and the first half.

5. Do the dishes. And do them in such a way as to draw attention to your contribution. Once the game is over, and everyone who watched it is either celebrating or weeping, you can use your dishwashing oblation as a means of reconnecting with your spouse. And if it was a bunch of dishes, it can carry over throughout the week.

Until the next kickoff, that is. Go Irish!

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